Common Name: Pine
Botanical Name: Pinus spp.
Energetics: warm, dry
Taste: aromatic, resinous, sometimes sl. bitter
Ask any Reserve, NM local, especially those of Spanish or Indigenous descent, about what to do for a deeply lodged splinter or painfully embedded fragment and they’ll point to the nearest Pine tree. Get some of that sticky stuff they’ll admonish, and just slap it on there. It’ll be better in the morning they say, and nod knowingly. In rural NM local gas station or general store, you’re sure to find a selection of locally made Pine Pitch salve, and you’ll likely see it being bought up by a variety of people, from loggers to hippies to ranchers. This universal backwoods appeal is a very good testament to its effectiveness.
I’ve personally seen it work time and time again in this application, often far better than Plantain. Plantain is better for pulling out venom and other poisons, but they work together very well for bringing boils to a head. Pine pitch often even works on glass and is great for your average wood splinter. You just rub a generous amount on the area and just wait. Usually, the foreign object will swell to a head and pop its way out within 48 hours. My understanding of how this works is that Pine is a powerful counter-irritant. Meaning that it stimulates local blood flow and aggravates the local immune response into revving up a noticeable amount. This means that it may cause a temporary increase in discomfort or inflammation in the area in order to speed healing.
I also add the Pine oil to most of my muscle salves or general wound care salves. It smells as rich and sweet as the high elevation forests and sometimes I open my jar just to take a deep whiff of the woods. It’s warming, stimulating and also seems very antimicrobial, clearing up infections from a variety of sources.
Because it’s so very warming and potentially irritating, I avoid using it on areas that are already very hot, super red and aggravated. It works better where the immune system just isn’t kicking out enough pressure to move the energy in a healing direction. It’s fine for splinters with a bit of local redness though, just use your common sense and discontinue if the situation seems to get worse rather than better.
To Make Pine Pitch Salve
First you need to find your Pine pitch. Here in the Gila, our Piņon Pine trees often have semi-hard globs of pitch on their trunks or at the base of the tree. Summer seems the best time to harvest, since this is when the trees tend to ooze more and it’s easier to pry off the harder chunks. If there’s a major wound that the pitch is coming from, I suggest not pulling the whole chunk off as the tree is trying to heal itself and needs that pitch.
After you’ve collected about half a pint jar’s worth of pitch, you divide it into three different grades. Rock hard chunks, sticky goo and semi-solid bits. Put the goo and semi-solid stuff in a pint jar with the semi-solid stuff on the bottom, and then break up the hard chunks into smaller pieces. I don’t recommend a mortar and pestle for this, it can very messy. The smaller you break up the hard pieces, the quicker they will break down. Sometimes I get lazy and just throw golf ball sized pitch rocks in there, and then it takes damn near forever to properly infuse the oil. Pea sized bits are a lot quicker. If you like, you can wrap the hard bits in some canvas and than hammer the hell out of it, that usually works pretty good.
By this point you likely have very sticky hands and are worried about being permanently glued to whatever you touch next. I’ve seen lots of people try cleaning with rubbing alcohol with less than optimal results. I recommend some nice oil, just rub it into your hands and the stickiness will slide right off. And then your hands smell very nice too!
Next you just fill your pint jar to the top with olive oil (or your salve oil of choice). Now, in order for your infused pine oil to be really effective, you have to get a large percentage of that pitch to dissolve into the oil. Heat is the best way I know to do this. Beware that whatever you heat the Pine pitch in will be pretty hard to clean, so you may not want to use your favorite crockpot. Personally, I just take the whole jar and stick it in my wood stover warmer and leave it there for a couple weeks, shaking occasionally to help break up the chunks. The sun might not be hot enough (depending on where you live), although if you half bury it in some hot sand directly in the sun, it’ll be a lot hotter.
When the chunks are mostly dissolved, strain the oil through a mesh sieve to get out any bark or whatever else was stuck to the pitch. Now you have lovely Pine oil, and can just proceed with your normal salve making process.